Justin Hiebert

Catalyzing Change

Loving our guests

Posted on 14 Jun 2014 in Church | 2 comments

I was listening to a podcast from Michael Hyatt this week and he was talking about some of the changes he made while CEO of Thomas Nelson, including improvements to the front lobby and initial visitor experience when they came to the company.

One of the big things that I’ve taken away from that podcast (quite honestly I can’t remember what his main points were) is that they stopped calling people visitors and started calling them guests.

“Think about it,” he said, “Visitors implies that somebody doesn’t belong.”

This struck me rather powerfully as a way to improve church experience for new comers. We should stop calling them visitors and instead call them our guests.

Now, I don’t think I call anyone at our church a ‘visitor’, I think I usually say something like, “If this is your first time here or your first time back in awhile….” but I don’t think that’s sufficient after hearing Michael speak. I really like the idea of referring to people as guests, it somehow gives them an inherent value and place of special standing.

Hello my name is

(Photo credit: maybeemily)

Being a visitor implies that you know nothing and have come to learn.

Being a guest implies that you can bring a mutually beneficial role to the relationship.

The more I think about it, the more I see how striking the difference becomes. We want people to join our community, to be a part of us, to experience faith and new life in Jesus. For a visitor, this road can be both difficult and scary. They’ve already been told that they don’t belong, so the incentive is for them to keep coming back until they do.

But for a guest, they already belong, in some sense they’ve been invited to join in and participate. Guests are welcomed warmly, like family coming together during the holidays.

As I’ve thought about this over the last several days, I’ve also started to wonder if some of the predicament that the church finds itself in today (lack of interest, decline in memberships and baptisms) can’t, at least to some degree, be traced back to a guest/visitor mindset. Yes, the American church has done a lot of reprehensible things and has done it’s fair share to isolate people, but I also wonder if we haven’t forgotten that we are told to ‘practice hospitality’ (Romans 12:13).

Think in terms of traveling. Going to another country, they very rarely do anything for visitors, but are always welcoming and receiving guests. They make them feel special, valued, and appreciated. Shouldn’t that be said about us in the church?


Please add to the discussion:

How does your church handle first time attenders? Do you do anything special? What do you call them? What are your plans for followup?

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Justin Hiebert

Leadership Catalyst - Entrepreneur - Coach at JSHiebert Leadership Coaching
I am a Business and Life Coach in both non-profit and for profit settings. I coach leaders, executives, and pastors in areas of vision, clarity, and values. In relationship coaching I focus on healthy and sustainable relationships, and in leadership development roles I catalyze change for individuals and groups to thrive. I also consult churches and organizations on how to train new leaders and create a healthy culture. In addition to that, I am an Anabaptist pastor in the Denver metro area. I specialize on topics that include: missional theology, discipleship, culture and the church in today’s society. I am married to my wonderful wife Elise and we have three kids. I grew up and now work in the United States Mennonite Brethren Church (USMB) and love the people and history of the Mennonite Brethren faith. I am a graduate of Tabor College with a dual degree in Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership, a graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary with a Masters of Divinity, and a Doctoral Student and Bethel Seminary. I also teach college classes in areas of Bible, Communication, and Business.

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  • Aaisha

    At our church, there are tables at the door and everyone fills out a name tag. No one knows who is new or not unless they have been going for a while. Then there is no formal welcome where people stand up or anything. There is a general announcement “if you are new, or been here a while and still have questions….here is a prayer you can pray during communion” “if you are new, or have been here a while and still want to look into the small groups, fill out the form in the back to get more information.” Then between worship and the sermon there is a “greet your neighbor” so that is how a new person meets a few people around. And then everyone is invited to mingle for snacks and chat after service. Also after sermons there is a question and answer session where the pastor will take 3 questions.

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